Editor’s note: WorldNetDaily.com’s international correspondent LoBaido has been a keen student of the Afrikaans language for 10 years and has lived, worked and traveled in South Africa. He filed this report on the history and controversy surrounding the language.
Afrikaans, a little-known language in a global sense, is a crucial key to understanding the many cultural issues now affecting post-apartheid South Africa.
What is Afrikaans? The language is unique in that it is a blend of Dutch and German. It also features a mixture of words brought to South Africa from India by indentured servants during the days of the British Empire. A sprinkling of words come from African tribes like the Zulus. Afrikaans is the preferred language of the Afrikaners, the white settlers who built the South African wilderness into one of the richest countries in the world. The Afrikaners are also called “Boers” which is the Dutch word for “farmer.”
“Nelson Mandela told his black ANC followers to ‘burn down their schools’ and to avoid learning Afrikaans, which Mandela called, ‘the language of the oppressor.’ The result is an unemployable generation of illiterates whose only job skills are shooting an AK-47,” South African policewoman Henika du Toit told WorldNetDaily.
“Affirmative action programs enacted by the ANC cannot help South Africa because of Mandela’s legacy of burning the schools and boycotting Afrikaans.”
Yet now a battle is raging in South Africa about how useful Afrikaans is for the nation as a whole. When Mandela gave his inaugural address in 1994, he spoke in Afrikaans. This was done, says du Toit, “because Afrikaans is a language that just about all South Africans can understand.”
The battle between the use of English and Afrikaans has long been a sore point in South Africa. The British Empire fought not one but two Boer Wars (the latter between 1899-1902) against the Afrikaners. The British won both wars and marginalized the Boers and the use of Afrikaans. When the Afrikaners took total control of South Africa in 1948, they were determined to see Afrikaans used as the primary language inside the country.
“We were made to study Afrikaans in school,” Nicola Hillerman told WorldNetDaily. Hillerman is an English-speaking South African who now works as an advertising executive in Hong Kong.
“Many of the Afrikaners hated learning English, and we hated learning Afrikaans. There was a lot of bad blood left over from the days of the Boereoorlog,” she said.
The term “Boereoorlog” is Afrikaans for “Boer War.”
Most Americans would be surprised to learn that the term “commando” and “laagar” comes from Afrikaans. The Boers formed guerrilla special forces units during the Boer War that were called “commandos.” The term laagar refers to the circling of the wagons during the Boers’ Great Trek into Zululand during the early part of the 19th century. The laagar was allegedly surrounded by a ring of white light with figures dressed in white, hovering around the perimeter. None of the incoming spears got through that ring. On the “Day of the Vow,” a day that is still held as sacred to many Boers, the Afrikaners asked God to give them victory over the Zulus in battle.
“Since the ANC took power in 1994, they have really tried to emphasize the use of English over Afrikaans. With Mandela at the helm, South Africa was allowed back into the British Commonwealth. I suppose trade, computers and commerce have something to do with this. Let’s face facts – English has emerged as a global language,” added Hillerman.
South Africa’s new president, Thabo Mbeki is a gifted speaker of the English language and a devout Marxist who admits he grew up reading the works of Karl Marx.
“Recently, Mbeki spoke at the Socialist International Conference in Sweden using English. Mbeki’s dealings with communist China and Libya’s Gadhafi are also carried on in English,” Koos Van der Merve told WorldNetDaily in a recent interview. Van der Merve is a former South African intelligence officer who now runs an international trading company.
“The ANC has really limited the use of Afrikaans on the [South African Broadcast Corporation] and other official, formerly Afrikaner dominated institutions of mass culture,” he added.
Some of the lengths to which the ANC has gone to limit Afrikaans have been extreme.
For example, WorldNetDaily witnessed the ANC sending in a police unit, complete with helicopter support, to take down Radio Donkerhoek, the only non-ANC controlled Afrikaner radio station in all of South Africa. Donkerhoek is the Afrikaans term for “the dark corner” and refers to the place of an ambush where British soldiers killed many Afrikaners during the Boer War.
The station broadcasts without an official permit – and with good reason.
“The ANC will not permit the Afrikaners to criticize the government through the mass media. Radio Pretoria does operate but can only play Boer music and cultural programming. It must toe the line in its political comment,” Willem Ratte told WorldNetDaily. Ratte is a celebrated former Special Forces soldier and operator of Radio Donkerhoek.
After the raid of Donkerhoek, the South African Citizen, the nation’s most conservative paper, ran a story that falsely claimed Ratte had locked himself inside the station and was ready to commit suicide.
“That is totally outlandish and absurd,” Hillerman told WND. “Ratte helped run the war in Angola against the Russians and Cuba – but he is afraid of a few helicopters and police at his radio station? It is frightening that a paper like The Citizen would run such a totally false story. It makes one wonder about the degree of ANC control, though in this case, I would look to pro-ANC Afrikaner agents working in the media. Everyone knows that Ratte would prefer to die as a martyr for the Afrikaner cause. Even the most devout ANC Marxist would laugh at the idea of Ratte committing suicide.”
Radio Donkerhoek claims that it is “the free, independent, Christian radio station of the Boer Nation of South Africa; their voice of protest against the hand over of political power, since 1994, to the ANC communist regime. Because Radio Donkerhoek does not recognize the corrupt communists as a legal government, and has not begged for a broadcasting license, it and its relay stations, Radio Volkstem and Radio Triomf, have all suffered police raids. Equipment has been confiscated, supporters have been intimidated, and five patriots are currently facing court action with threatened fines of 500,000 Rand and prison sentences, the current penalty against the use of free speech.
“Our premises in Pretoria came under attack by an armed force, hundreds strong. They intended to shut us down for good. Although working within the constraints of an inefficient corrupt communist government, the armed force could not find a morally sound purpose to fire. It was God’s will that the attackers lost their nerve and departed after darkness fell, not a shot fired, their purpose unfulfilled. The next day transmissions resumed as normal. Radio Donkerhoek is funded and operated by supporters and patriotic citizens, who also volunteer as announcers on a part-time basis, all risking heavy fines and possible imprisonment, for the highest cause: the right of a people to serve the Trinity of God and to rule themselves. Our Pretoria frequency is FM 106,2 MHz, every evening.”
Marge Leitner, a South African deeply involved with Boer politics said that Radio Pretoria and Radio Donkerhoek are very important to the Afrikaners.
“For instance, when Radio Pretoria talks about this government, they actually say ‘Thabo Mbeki, the president of the ANC regime.’ That’s why they probably didn’t get their license renewed! There’s a big court case looming for this little gutsy station. If they lose, a similar fate to Radio Donkerhoek awaits them. They are a little voice in the wilderness. At the moment, though, Radio Pretoria is playing a vital role in communicating with the Afrikaners in their own language, talking to them about their own culture and about ‘their country.’” Leitner told WND.
Leitner emphasized the important role Afrikaans still has to play in the nation for all South Africans.
“Did you know that Afrikaans comes second to Zulu, as being the language that is used most in this country? Zulu, of course, is the first, most widely spoken language, thereafter comes Afrikaans. Here you must remember though, that the colored communities in the Cape also all speak predominantly Afrikaans. But this little-known fact is certainly not publicized by this regime, for reasons we are aware of. As with any language, I guess, Afrikaans is part of the intricate culture of the Afrikaner nation. It is their cornerstone. Their heritage, their pride, their future,” Leitner said.
“I am from German descent, but I went to school with the Afrikaners. I grew up with them. As with every nationality on this planet, the Afrikaner people have their own traditions, which are handed down from generation to generation. Part of the intricate and rich tapestry of the history of the Afrikaner is their Calvanistic background, their stubborn streak, which has often led to great historic moments of glory or desperate hours of defeat! Songs are sung, poems are written, stories are told, jokes are shared, all with one common thread – the language of Afrikaans.
“When I was overseas, I lived and worked for three years in Switzerland. We had an international club there, and in that little town of Neuhausen am Rhein were four South Africans, including myself. What was the immediate binding factor? The language of home, of family, of country, Afrikaans. We were all starved of hearing the sound – music to our ears. We shared jokes … a particular brand of humor. Non-South Africans often stare in disbelief while we roll on the floor about something that we find hysterically funny, but nobody else can understand.
“Its part of the Afrikaner tradition. You hear ‘Die Stem,’ (the Afrikaner anthem) and emotions run high, tears come, and your patriotic emotions engulf you. How we still cling to that tiny bit of ‘Die Stem’ that still forms part of the national anthem. Go to any international rugby match, anywhere in the world, and listen when they play the national anthems. South Africans are to be found everywhere, but particularly in the UK and in Australia. It’s relatively quiet when they play the first part, but then when the bit comes from ‘Die Stem’ its like the floodgates open. There is a roar as the voices rise, and you can literally ‘feel’ all the spine-tingling, goose bumps sensation that comes with the pride and passion of singing your national anthem.”
Leitner told WorldNetDaily that “the issue of a language goes very deep and becomes part of the soul. Especially with the Afrikaner, being such a ‘small and gutsy nation.’ It is part of their pride and feelings of nationalism, pride in their race. And why not? Every nation has that right, especially, I think, because of the rocky path they have been on since time immemorial. The very suffering in their history has bound them together by the common thread: the language.
“But I think the most powerful argument for Afrikaans is the Afrikaner’s religious belief. As you know, they are a very religious people. They will always humble themselves before God. Their whole existence is intertwined with religion, and they express their faith in Afrikaans. Take that away from the Afrikaner, and you take away his existence. And this is what the enemy knows full well. Why the oppression of Afrikaans as a language? Why the attacks on Afrikaans being used as a teaching medium at schools? Why the attacks on Afrikaans universities? Why the attacks on the Afrikaner, period?”
Boers who cannot speak English well are sometimes at a disadvantage when dealing with the English-speaking international community.
For example, when Gerard Erasmus sent an e-mail to U.N. Human Rights Commission in Pretoria about the 1,119 murders of white South African farmers since 1994, he was chastised for his lack of command of English.
Erasmus told WorldNetDaily, “The U.N. Human Rights Commission responded to my concerns by stating: ‘Perhaps you should go for spelling lessons before you send these whining, pathetic complaints – you white people had it too good for too long.’”
Will Afrikaans survive?
Adriana Stuijt, is a former anti-apartheid journalist now based in the Netherlands.
“Recent research pointed out that Afrikaners and Afrikaans-speaking folks are now being accepted in Africa,” she told WND, “because many of those people worked on the mines as migrant workers and learned to read and write Afrikaans while they were here. Most of the ethnics in Southwest Africa/Namibia speak Afrikaans as a second language. The language is more and more accepted as ‘Modern African.’ It is the only African language that is able to ‘think’ and ‘write’ in modern technological jargon, even computer technology and nuclear physics. This is not possible in black African languages.”
Stuijt said, “My grandfather fought in the Anglo-Boer War and died in 1945. [Many Afrikaners] could speak the indigenous languages and understood English, although they would not speak it. When a British officer during the war claimed in English toward some POWs that ‘the sun will not set on the British Empire,’ to his dismay, a Boer answered from the ranks, ‘Yes, because God can’t trust you in the dark.’”
Journalist Jan Lamprecht says, “Strangely, the ANC does not seem to have openly done much to destroy Afrikaans. At this very moment, there is an Afrikaans exposition in London, and the ANC is there – the blacks speaking Afrikaans – can you believe it? … There are even bold ads on national TV saying how many Afrikaans programs there are. I am stunned at how often ANC officials speak Afrikaans.”
“I have noted cynically to my family that they seem to be speaking more Afrikaans and putting more sport on TV, as they murder the farmers and attack the Boers. There is a long-standing joke/observation by many that as the ANC comes after us, they give us TV as a form of diversion. They put more international sport on, and that makes folks happy while they really nail us. The ANC, like Clinton and all these new communists, are very much image oriented. … [Zimbabwe President] Mugabe is the same. In front of the cameras he’s one person; behind the scenes he’s the opposite.
“Many things are contributing to Afrikaans not growing in a big way. But it’s not dead. The colored people love Afrikaans and regard themselves as ‘Brown Afrikaners.’ They even have their version of Afrikaans and their own sayings which, if you understand Afrikaans, are actually hilarious. Just listening to them speaking normally is a hilarious exercise. I think all the past emphasis on Afrikaans has paid off. It’s amazing how many blacks speak the language in daily life.
“But I think Afrikaans will have to take a step back,” said Lamprecht, “especially when it comes to computers and international contact. It is just too difficult inventing new words and maintaining a language for so few people. I don’t think Afrikaans will ever die. It may just become more of a ‘second language’ than a ‘first language.’ True Afrikaners will defend Afrikaans with tremendous zest.
“Most South Africans are bilingual. It extends to all race groups. It is amazing how, even now, the different races swap between English and Afrikaans at will. Few are truly fluent in both languages, but most people can understand each other pretty well. There are some Afrikaans areas and other English areas. Johannesburg, because of its metropolitan atmosphere, is more English. Pretoria is Afrikaans. The rural areas tend to be Afrikaans. There used to be a great resistance to English because of the Boer War. I think that made it harder to get the Afrikaners to speak English, because they viewed English as ‘the language of the enemy.’
“I think the international nature of the world, and especially in the computer industry, English rules, and even the most Afrikaans people can’t help but move to English. English, of course, is not just dominated by the British … and maybe this removal of English from being the domain of the British will help Afrikaners in the long run not to feel so bad about the language. Most Afrikaners have become pretty outward-looking, and they have had to change so much that the language alone isn’t the major issue. There are more pressing issues, and they have to be realistic,” Lamprecht concluded.